Aug. 14--NEWPORT BEACH -- Plans for a new fine arts center received a preliminary go-ahead Tuesday from the City Council, the newest twist on a decades-old push to reopen the 86-year-old Balboa Theater.
The empty theater would be overhauled as a city-run fine arts center, offering exhibitions, youth day camps and workshops in the arts, crafts and music. Movies, live performances, even weddings, might also take place there, although those wouldn't be its primary purpose.
The historic cinema closed in 1992, its revival house format unable to survive in a parking-starved area that attracts fewer tourists. The city bought the theater in 1998. The nonprofit Balboa Performing Arts Theatre Foundation has raised money to restore the roughly 6,000-square-foot venue to its silver-screen heyday for years.
Transforming the time-worn venue, which has been reduced to a sand floor and graffiti-marred walls, would cost $3.37 million, according to preliminary estimates provided Tuesday in a staff report. Taxpayers could be called on to subsidize the center's operations to the tune of $200,000 per year, initial estimates indicate.
On Tuesday, City Council members directed staff to seek formal projections showing whether the facility would break even, along with firm construction cost estimates. That information will come back to the council later for use in making a formal decision on the concept.
"While it has been a long and winding road ... I'm convinced we ended up in the right place," said Councilman Michael Henn, whose district includes the Balboa Peninsula, where the theater is located.
In March, the city had tentatively agreed to give the theater foundation $2 million toward renovations if the theater's backers raised a matching $2 million by year-end.
By mid-July, hampered by "donor fatigue," fundraising stalled around $500,000, Steve Beazley, foundation president, said following Tuesday's meeting.
Over the years, donors had given more than $5 million toward theater restoration, the Register reported in June, money that was eaten up by cost overruns and increasingly lofty plans.
The idea to reuse the space as a fine arts center, Beazley said, emerged in a series of recent discussions with city staff.
On Tuesday, Laura Detweiler, city recreation and senior services director, told the council that a similar fine arts venue in Fullerton is popular. She said space for city-run classes remains in short supply and demand is high.
Henn suggested recognizing the theater's many donors, possibly on a wall in the new fine arts center, an idea that was echoed in the staff report.
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